Sunday May 13 Porto

We arrived in Porto on the 12th at about 1.40pm via bus/coach. The freeways were paved very well, so it was a smoother and quieter ride. Timing worked perfectly as check in was from 2pm.

Porto is a lovely city. The cobblestoned roads and paths lulls the mind into the past. The old storefront and building facades are aesticallly pleasing to the eyes. There is an energy to it, conveyed by the youthful residents.

These two young men, Sorin & Sergio, were out all Saturday night, celebrating the Porto soccer team’s national championship victory! Taken at about 6.20am, Sunday.

Maria and her friends were also out all night celebrating the championship victory.

Both Sorin & Maria asked me to take their pictures. Lovely youths!

I took advantage of the early morning sun to capture some softer images of the cityscape from the 3rd floor of our lodging.

The twin towers on left are the Porto Cathedral.

The river front, famous for its port houses. A bit of morning mist.

We caught the 11am Mass service at the Porto Cathedral. It was in Portuguese. We were able to check for the May 13 mass readings on my smartphone, and thus, at least were able to reflect with the rest of the congregation. And we collected our 4th stamp from this Cathedral.

Porto Cathedrals altar.

We won’t bore you with the details of our sight seeing, suffice to say that Porto is like San Francisco and Seattle, with hilly streets as we work our way to the water front. The river cruise and the limited hop on, hop off bus circuit was a special treat to our feet before the Camino start tomorrow. Below are some pictures of our day in Porto.

Portuguese love the sun. And they will lounge in deck chairs in squares too!

Overlooking the Riberia Square, Douro’s Edge water front.

Another view of waterfront.

Joon spotted this street artwork in a side alley, off the port houses waterfront.

Turning the clock back one day……..

We took in some sight seeing on the 12th. And we committed a cardinal sin of a Camino walker during one of these sight seeing stops.

Livraria Lello, the bookstore that inspired JK Rowling to write the library moving stairscases in the Harry Potter books, was just 5 minutes away from our lodging. So, with ‘arms twisted around our backs’, we lined up for the Euro 5 entry coupon per person.

This is the only bookstore where probably 90% of visitors are taking pictures. Smartphones clicking away abound, with a smattering of DSLRs with their zoom lenses. It was crowded, and most gravitated to the spiral staircases. We did our own share of picture taking.

Facade of Livraria Lello, in the early morning. Crowds abound on weekends.

I am holding up the book I purchased at Livraria Lello, and will carry with me to Santiago! The book is ‘The Devil & Miss Prym’. Interesting premise – a stranger promises a village enough gold bars to change every single person’s life for the better. But to get the gold, they have to commit an unthinkable crime. Should be an interesting read on the Camino.

The staircase.

Intricate woodwork on the ceilings.

Characters from the Harry Potter movies.

In 11-12 hours time, our Camino walk begins. We now rest our bodies, we quiet our inner spirits and we await the morning sun. Bom Camino.

Saturday May 12 Fatima

A number have expressed their difficulty in sensing the spiritual, when they see an over-load of commercialism around the Basilica and Fatima. A number have shared too, that visiting the locations where the Angel appeared, where the children grew up, provides a grounding for their own Fatima experience.

How do I approach this challenge? We know from magicians and their illusions, that our eyes can be easily tricked. Perhaps the famous line from The Little Prince illuminates the path to a more spiritual experience of Fatma – “…it is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye”.

If the preceding seems too pretentious, consider this. Parents, coaches, mentors all seek to inculcate a positive attitude with those that they are responsible for and helping. They reinforce the importance of seeing the half glass full over the half glass empty. This attitude affects the actions one will take, and the resulting consequences that one experiences. But attitudes cannot be seen, they cannot be examined by any known instrumentation. Yet, they have real life consequences as any tangible concrete object. Likewise, with the heart, the soul, the spirit being the key channels for how we perceive and respond. Let these experience Fatima, and not just the eyes. Just like listening to a soaring opera moves the spirit and heart.

We spent the last couple of hours at the Basilica, to still our minds, to soak in the spirituality. I am humbled when I consider there are thousands around me that are praying for specific intentions. There’s probably a good number that are also thanking and praising for answered prayers.

As we were walking in the sanctuary grounds, we saw a family, father, mother and son, heading towards the Basilica too. The parents had deep tans on their faces, and it was easy for us to perceive they were likely to live on a farm. The boy was carrying a bouquet of flowers. They were humbly visiting the sanctuary, without dangling cameras, without smartphones in their hands. Just with their offering in hand and in their hearts. Weren’t shepherds the first to be told by angels of Christ’s birth? Weren’t the three Fatima children from farming families? Perhaps it’s we who live in towns and cities, that are the dis-advantaged?

In the courtyard before the Chapel of Apparitions, we noticed many acts of devotion. How would you demonstrate an act of devotion to your parents, who have sacrificed to raise you as best as they can? Ponder this before reading further.

What we witnessed were people walking on their knees to the Chapel. They were praying as they did so. Many were accompanied by a loved one walking by their side.

I call them pilgrims. They have spiritual intentions. They are not sight seeing.

As I previously mentioned, I was and continue to be moved by what Lucia wrote in her memoirs. May is the Marian month when rosaries are prayed in earnest. I prayed a rosary and Divine Mercy at the Chapel, for my mother. I had promised her in person a week ago that I would do so.

As we prepared to depart the Basilica grounds, Joon & I lit candles for our families and intentions. We leave Fatima, with peace in our hearts.

No one lights a lamp and puts it under a bowl; instead it is put on a lamp stand where it gives light to every one in the house. Matthew 5:15

Friday May 11 Pre-Camino

We flew into Lisbon on Wed May 9, arriving at our lodgings in the late afternoon. Due to the longish transit time at Amsterdam, the elapsed time from stepping out of our house into our lodgings was almost 20 hours (almost as long as our typical 24 hours flights to Asia). An hour’s delay was part and parcel of the air traveling experience. Unbeknown to me at that time, my Camino ‘test’ had started at the Amsterdam gate for the flight to Lisbon. Generally, I travel well and un-flustered, having logged many miles. But this time, I had let the circumstances get the better of me. How did that happen? Well, when they announced the boarding for the flight to Lisbon, they also called our names (plus many others) to get our passports verified prior to boarding. So, visualize this – you are in a line to verify your passports, while there’s another line being boarded. And of course, we have our backpacks with us, as we followed the advice of seasoned Camino walkers to not check those in. Flashes of concern that we might not have overhead cabin space appeared as unwelcomed guests. Of course, the fact that most of us had been waiting at the gate 45-60 minutes prior to boarding, raised the question why the airline staff didn’t call us earlier to verify our passports, but only did so, at boarding time? Finally, the straw that broke the camel’s back was the staff seemed oblivious to the need to expeditiously validate the passports and issue the new boarding passes (latter did not have the disbarring statement that passports needed to be verified). If I had been more observant, I should have seen said text on passport needing to be verified on my electronic boarding pass on my smartphone. Rather the staff was chatting with the passengers she was serving. The second staff was engrossed on the phone (which I later overhead, was trying to get members of another party boarded). No excuses, but I started venting to Joon in the line, and I ‘know’ the people around me could hear my vents. Fortunately, my vents weren’t loud or full of emotional derision, but it wasn’t my finest hour. Much later, I realized that I could have better manage myself during this. If you are wondering whether we had problems with overhead space for our two backpacks, the answer is, The Camino Provided! A tip – booking seats at the back of the plane is counter-intuitive as one disembarks last, but it seems to have less competition for overhead cabin space. We also lucked out as it was just the 2 of us, in a 3 seat configuration in our row. Finally, if you ever check in online at home for a Delta international flight, it seems there are self service kiosks at the airport to validate one’s passport. Live and learn.

This first day was just getting over the jet lag. Perhaps we could be macho about it, but the reality is that the body stores up all the stresses that we put on it, and there will be a payback time. We didn’t want latter to happen when we are on the Camino trail. So, let’s be the tortoise, rather than the hare with jet lag!

We really didn’t do much in Lisbon on arrival, as we will have two nights in Lisbon after the Camino. We opted for a cafe/restaurant that was just next to our lodging. Joon had the grilled sardines, and this was the first time I had seen whole sardines (being a city boy). Usually, I see pieces of sardines in a can! I had a grilled octopus. Both were delicious! This neighborhood cafe was also a great people watching spot. I observed that guys tended to catch up for drinks after their work day at the counter. Thus, they stand at the counter, drinking. They didn’t work at the same company as they drifted in and out at different times, wearing different clothes. One even had his soup at the counter!

We had an early night on Wed May 9 in Lisbon. And slept like babies, as most are wont to, after a 20+ hours travel.

While we were waiting for our Lisbon flight (4.5 hours transit) at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, I was able to surf the Net and book our train tickets from Lisbon to Tomar.

The train ride comprised an Inter-City and a Regional train service. Which means changing trains in between. The web site is quite clear on that! The fares were reasonable, Euro 13.80 per person from Lisbon to Tomar, which is about 140km/84 miles. I love the train network and system in Europe. The best part is that the European train stations are invariably located in the center of town, or near the historical center. Thus, most lodgings and attractions are all within walking distance. Contrast that if you fly into airports!

Tomar was a change/addition to our original plan. It is where the Knights of Templar had their headquarters. Our lodging, which is a private albergue, is located within 15 mins walk from the Templar’s Castelo and Convento de Cristo.

We arrived at the Tomar train station at about 11am Thursday. I noted the bus/coach depot was located adjacent to the train station. So, a quick detour to the coach ticketing office provided us the schedule info for coaches from Tomar to Fatima, our next stop. I tried unsuccessfully to book the coach on my phone (somehow, the site for one of the coach companies was not set up for e-commerce, and it was difficult navigating the other coach company’s web site). When I tried to book the coach ticket to Fatima for the next day, the ticketing rep responded that I can buy the tickets on the day of travel, that it was not necessary to purchase in advance. Thus, I had to subdue the concern that the seats will be sold out, or the desire to insist on buying there and then. Another lesson on adapting to the local culture. Thus, it was prudent to plan ahead, but one should also accept that one doesn’t need to be in total control of every step ahead. A small lesson that will probably be magnified on the Camino trail looming ahead.

During our walk from the train station to our lodging, I spotted a neighborhood mercado. We stopped there, as I had forgotten to pack shaving cream (it was painful trying to shave with just soap that morning when we departed from Lisbon). We also bought a bar of dark chocolate, 72% cocoa. I have to admit that European chocolates are in a class of their own. They have less sugar content and a richer texture compared to American ‘chocolate-candy’.

Since our lodging’s check in time was 2pm, we decided to eat first. I called up my friend, Senor Yelp on my phone. He provided a list of restaurants and the top 2 appeared to be in the vicinity of our lodging. I browsed the reviews of the restaurants, and was initially uncomfortable with the paucity of and very dated reviews (2015, 2016). Regardless, we decided to frequent the restaurant at the top of the list since it was in the general vicinity of our lodging.

As we neared this restaurant, there was a cafe nearby. Joon did not take a fancy to any of the cafe offerings. One thing we quickly learned is that restaurant names are not necessarily displayed prominently on the walls. So, we spotted the Yelp restaurant’s name on a chalk board standing on the ground. We entered the restaurant, and spotted two diners sitting at their respective tables. The owner/chef came out and greeted us. She explained that she only had two dishes at that time (I gathered somewhat that the other ingredients will arrive later in the day), ribs and veal. While we try our best to keep to a pescatarian diet, we are not dogmatic about it. We believe that when we travel, we need to experience the local cultures as best as we can, and all cultures, express themselves in their cuisine. So, we ordered both entrees. Both were delicious, and came with rice, fries, salad and bread. We noted the three different options for carbohydrates! We left the bread totally un-touched. By the way, we haven’t eaten fries for many moons. Our stomachs were happy. We turned down the desserts initially. I checked the time and noted we had an hour to go before check in. So, changing our mind, we decided to go with coffee and the most requested (and sweeter) dessert. What clinched the dessert option was when the chef informed us that on a prior occasion, a group of diners were willing to wait for her to make the dessert from scratch. If it was that good, we should try it. She also told us how she ate it, which was, to take a small teaspoon of the dessert and dip/spoon it with the (unsweetened) coffee. The dessert was a combination of a creme brulee (without the layer of caramelized sugar) and tiramisu-like dough. It was really good. Another adaption to European culture, having coffee at the end of a meal, even at lunch time! This restaurant was a gem in disguise when the bill was presented. It was probably the best valued meal we had in Europe or in USA, even going back a decade or so, before inflation took its toll.

Our lodging was located within a pedestrian retail area, with various shops and restaurants/cafes. We were obviously not intending to shop for anything before our Camino, despite the various attractive Templar-designed offerings. that caught our eyes. We did succumb to a couple of pins that we pin onto our cap/hat respectively. It will help us recall our time in Tomar without excessively adding to our material possessions!

I must share that our bedroom in Tomar was unusually decorated. One wall had many hand drawn handkerchiefs pinned. An adjacent wall described the old tradition where girls would hand over their hand drawn handkerchiefs to the young men they were interested in. Check out the pictures below (may need to fix upload of these pics later if it doesn’t appear).

A close up of one handkerchief. Truly a labor of love.

Our afternoon outing was to the Convento de Cristo. We stopped by St John the Baptist church, and spent some prayerful time inside. I lighted some (electrically charged) candles for family members and intentions. It was a great spiritual start to our travels.

The walk to the Convento was along a rocky path, which we could easily accept had been there over the centuries. The Convento was a 12th century was a Templar stronghold. When the Templars was dissolved in the 14th century, this Portuguese branch became the Knights of the Order of Christ, which subsequently supported the famed Portuguese maritime travels. We spend an easy 1.5 hours visiting. Some highlights included the Tree of Life mural, inside chapel and the exhibition. Re latter, this was the first time I had seen figurines depicting the Holy Trinity – Father, Son & Holy Spirit.

The inside chapel. Beautiful wooden mural panels, statutes. Soak that in, and don’t rush through like a tour group did, when we were there!

One of the wooden panel murals. This depicts Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem.

The Tree of Life mural on exterior wall. The base is the tree trunk, and branches on the sides.

One of many Trinity figurines. The Holy Spirit is depicted as a dove. Note the globe of the earth at the base.

This Friday morning will be an easy one before we catch a coach to Fatima just past noon.

We learned quickly that having our private room next to the kitchen meant that we woke up with the earliest risers having their breakfast. Several of these early risers were Camino walkers. At breakfast, I chatted with various guests, a Canadian couple walking the Camino from Lisbon. Others were just vacationing in the area (Irish guys, Swiss girl by herself). The subject of stamps for the credential came up, and one of the guests shared that it was available at the front desk.

Joon had previously asked a FB group, so, we knew we could collect stamps in our credentials even outside our Camino route. We didn’t have time to visit the cathedral in Lisbon before catching the train to Tomar. That’s when the thought struck me that we should try as much as possible to have stamps from churches or other notable locations. Thus, our first stamp is from St. John the Baptist Church in Tomar. Is it a total co-incidence that our parish back in USA is also John the Baptist? Divine sign?

Dinner on Thu night was probably a desperate attempt to get to bed early, eating at a nearby modernized hamburger joint. Our stomachs have not been subjected to hamburgers for many years in USA, so, it was definitely asking a lot from mine, to accept this.

It’s probably where Joon’s salmon salad led to some tummy upset, causing her to throw up on the coach journey to Fatima the next Fri morning.

On appearances, Fatima has transformed into a pilgrims destination. There were a number of high rise hotels and apartment blocks. Not to mention the numerous shops selling all Fatima related items. Despite this, the people that one meets, in the cafes, in the shops, none of them exhibited any arrogance or distaste at the influx of tourists and pilgrims. Unlike a city which will remain nameless where I felt that everyone was trying to ‘fleece’ every non-resident. Their friendliness was genuine and I appreciated that it was way of making a living for them.

Clearly, Mother Mary’s appearances to the three children has helped transform and elevate the living standards in this area. This can be seen in the infrastructure, the quality and size of homes, the general well being of the peoples. But it takes perhaps a deeper look, to see the depth and strength of their spiritual faith. This was clear to us, as we approached the Basilica. There were numerous caravans, trailers, tents set up as people flocked to Fatima for the anniversary celebrations this coming Sunday, May 13 (the first appearance by Mother Mary).

We desired a spiritual start to our Camino, and Fatima was the spark to the tinder. We said rosaries for our intentions in the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary. Fortunately, or perhaps some spiritual happenstance, as we ended our prayers, we could see the church attendants clearing the front of the church. A short service was then conducted in Portuguese by the pastor, with the organ player and a singer in attendance. The acoustics were absolutely phenomenal.

This basilica also housed the mortal remains of the three children, Jacinta, Francisco and Lucia. Their souls are already in heaven, as promised by Mother Mary. It’s comforting to know they are praying for us.

Postscript – I revised this post several times as I realized that it’s much harder to record one’s contemplations, as the first draft invariably defaulted into a chronological accounting. Which was not really the intent of the blog.

Rome2rio app was invaluable for checking the various local transport options from town to town.

Making the Camino Decision

There are as many decision triggers for walking the Camino, as there are hikers, cyclists and pilgrims that have undertaken this journey. One trigger that’s common, is the 2010 movie, The Way, starring Martin Sheen and directed by his son, Emillio Estevez.

We knew our good friend, Sim had walked it in 2016. As Catholics, we had come across this before but I had never seriously looked into it. Then, in the summer of 2017, our friends Meg and Shawn, who lived in Barcelona but were back for the summer, asked whether we would be interested in joining their parish group visiting Fatima for the 100th anniversary of the apparitions. We declined due to our travel schedules to Asia.

Like all good ideas, it percolated and bubbled. Then one day, I decided to start reading about it on the Net. And the more I read, especially the posts and sharing on a Camino UK blog, the more it drew me in. Eventually, we discussed doing this Camino and Fatima as a pilgrimage in 2018, and we both enthusiastically embraced it. We subsequently borrowed the DVD, The Way. In addition, we read several books, and everything solidified the decision.

Our reading list includes:

  • In movement, there is peace – Elaine & Joseph Foster
  • Field of Stars – Kevin A Codd (author is a Catholic priest in Spokane WA)
  • I’m off then – Hape Kerkeling (just started on this book)

To sum it up, we decided to walk the Camino:

  • To nourish and enrich our spiritual life.
  • To seek God in the people and events that will unfold.
  • To strengthen the bonds between us.
  • To experience a pilgrimage with our feet.

IMHO, any reason or motivation is a good one, as many have testified that the Camino experience has changed their outlook, their approach to life. The pilgrims/peregrine say, the “Camino provides”.

Buen Camino.

B

 

For me, going to walk the Camino seems to be like going on a grand adventure! When the idea first percolated, I obviously had no idea what I was signing up for… sure, traveling to Portugal and Spain fits me perfectly. I do love to see different countries, experience different ways of life and all that, but walking hundreds of kilometers with my own backpack no less, kinda brought me back to reality a little. But, what is life if one doesn’t challenge oneself and do things one might never have a chance to do again? Still, I must admit I do have reservations…

Firstly, I don’t really enjoy hiking all that much. Uphill treks are the worst, I do NOT like climbing hills and with a backpack, I will be complaining all the way. Seriously, our ‘pristine’ 33 year marriage might be ending on the Camino. Sigh. Anyway, I am willing to give it a try with as much grace as I can. I suppose I could limit myself to whining only once a day.

Secondly, I am such a worrier and I will imagine all sorts of scenarios that can happen (and probably will) … getting lost, getting sick, getting injured. Surrendering to the will of God is probably the wisest thing to do in these circumstances and that’s what I’ll have to learn to do.

Thirdly, the accommodations along the way will be ‘rustic’ I gather, and what is worrisome (ah, that word again!) is that we probably need to have good rest and sleep nightly in order to successfully complete the daily journey. And I already know I don’t really sleep well in unfamiliar surroundings, unlike my dear other half who can drop off to sleep in a wink of an eye (yes, even sitting upright!). Me, I have to toss and turn, mind racing all the time, willing myself to sleep while being totally  envious on  hearing the sonorous deep breaths of my beloved. I look forward to being so very tired after a day of walking that I won’t care if my bed is just a thin mattress.  See, I am already becoming a more positive person!

So yes, I have my reservations but ultimately, I am positive that what we achieve out of this experience will be a deeper, fuller understanding of self, our relationship with each other and most importantly, with God. I have always pondered the question,  ‘Why am I on this Earth?’  I may never find my answer, but I would sure like to try to find out. Doing the Camino is my one step in that direction.

Buen Camino.

J

Camino de Santiago

This was popularized among Americans by the 2010 movie, ‘The Way’, directed, produced and written by Emilio Estevez and starring his father Martin Sheen. We heard of it years ago, but it first came onto our radar when my best friend, Sim, mentioned he walked it in 2016. But the trigger for us to consider it, was when our friends, Meg and Shawn, invited us to visit Fatima in October 2017 with their church group, for Fatima’s 100th anniversary. So the seed for a pilgrimage was planted and germinated.

As we started considering Fatima in our travel plans, the brain worked mysteriously and associated the Camino de Santiago. I came across a wonderful Camino UK blog, and the many postings by hikers and pilgrims shaped and solidified our thoughts and plans in this area. We decided to make the Camino de Santiago the focal point of our pilgrimage, with a pre-Camino visit to Fatima.

There are as many reasons to walk the Camino as there are hikers/pilgrims (277.7K in 2016). For us, it’s part of our ‘journey within’, seeking to elevate our spiritual self, and strengthening our bonds. I personally expect that I will learn to listen more, learn to see beyond the surface, and to fine tune some of my deepest convictions and values as they are challenged on the trail.

For those wishing to prepare spiritually, Sandy Brown had three inspiring posts at this blog page.

Our Camino walk will be in May 2018. But the preparation has started and will continue before we board our flights.

B